Last week I established why God gave the Mosaic law - because sin was in the world but up to that point no one knew exactly what sin was. There was no standard of absolutes, no knowledge of right and wrong until God gave those absolutes to Moses.
It was God who said not to look on the nakedness of another man's wife or daughter. It was God who said if you're responsible for something it is a sin to blame someone else for your conduct. It was God who said it was wrong to lust after your neighbor's shiny new chariot and to be happy for them and happy with your 10 year old model.
Following the rules didn't and doesn't pave the road to heaven
The rich young ruler said he had kept all the law since his youth, yet recognized he didn't have eternal life - he was right before God and man, but didn't have the life of God.
The writer of Hebrews said this in 7:19: "For the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand, a better hope is offered by which we draw near to God." If you grew up in a religious home or a religious church, you realized you could never be perfect enough for your parent, or your pastor, or (you thought) for God. The law makes nothing perfect. You can never do what you need to do to make mom happy. To make dad happy. To make God happy.
Abel and Cain brought offerings to the Lord. Abel submitted to righteousness and offered an innocent animal's blood as a covering for his sin, but Cain offered the work of his own efforts, vegetables, to God. God accepted the blood but not the vegetables.
Cain is the father of false religions for that reason. All other religions are man's efforts to come to God on man's own terms, with the exception of Christianity, in which God came to man on His terms. God says 'forsake your ways and your thoughts (and come up to mine), for my ways and my thoughts are higher than yours..." (Isaiah 55)
So if a Christian fasts to influence God, or gives money to try to move God, or works long hours at church thinking God is pleased and therefore He might heal a loved one - all those things are like Cain offering vegetables to God. The law makes nothing perfect.
I fast because I want to quiet myself before God that I might become more sensitive. I give because I first give myself to the Lord in love, and then give to man from that love. I serve people because I love them for Christ also died and lived for them as well as me. I do all things from the inside out, not from the outside in.
What Paul said:
Last week I quoted Paul when he said the law, legalism, brought the knowledge of sin. He also said this:
"...the strength of sin is the law." I Corinthians 15: 56
Legalism actually opens the door for sin, strengthening any tendency for sin in our lives. Look at Cain. Resentment he had towards Abel sprung up when his offering was not accepted - he became angry at his brother, not God. Trying to come to God in his own legal structure strengthened sin in him.
You know how diets go. The more you have said you will not have dessert today, the more you think about dessert all that day. An old time minister observed in his day the churches that preached the most about teens abstaining from premarital sex had the most pregnant teenagers in their congregation. The more they preached against alcohol the more drunks were among their members. Living by an external law actually strengthens sin in one's life because you're always trying to measure up to those impossible standards, fail, and go to that weakness.
Legalism measures only the external
Paul said in I Timothy 1:8-9 that the law is good if you use it right, but the law is not made for a righteous person. There is value obviously in knowing the absolutes, knowing how we should and should not act. There is value to it.
Our faith actually confirms the law for God's standard is now in us in Christ. In Romans 3:31 Paul said our faith actually establishes, or confirms (the value) of the law. When I don't lie but instead tell the truth, I am doing it because Christ has made me an honest man, not because God told Moses it is a sin to lie. But by not lying I establish and confirm the law.
But if you live by a rigid external scaffolding of rules and regulations you think God wants of you, instead of walking with Christ in you, you will only harm yourself and become frustrated with God and man.
In Romans 4:15 it says, "The law works wrath", and that is true. Those who are legalistic are the most angry and unhappy people around. They have a set of right and wrong and they get very upset if they think someone is not living up to those standards - the result is wrath, that explosive, boiling inside, anger that explodes one day.
The letter kills
In II Corinthians 3: 6, 7, 9 Paul observes serval things, first of which is this; "...the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Anyone who grew up in a legalistic home with rigid rules that upon breaking, brought down the wrath of your mom or dad, knows the letter of the law kills. It kills the relationship a child has with their parent. It kills the relationship a church member has with their church and/or pastor. If they perceive God is like that, it can kill one's walk with God.
In v7 he calls the law the 'ministry of death' and in v9 'the ministry of condemnation'. Living a religious life by the law kills, gives strength to sin, causes wrath, condemns, produces death, and is therefore not for a righteous person.
Yet how many millions of people through the centuries have thought God wanted then to jump through hoops or over hurdles to please Him?
How Abraham changed everything
Abraham grew up in Mesopotamia, a land with gods and goddesses for every purpose and every occasion. If you wanted your crop of Einkorn or Emmer wheat to be blessed (ancient kinds of wheat you can still buy today, even online, largely unchanged from the days of Abraham), the resident of Mesopotamia would take a sample of seed to the temple, make an offering to the fertility god or goddess, have sex with the temple prostitute to seal the deal, and hope you they had appeased that god or goddess to bless this year's crop. That was the religious legal system.
When Abraham came to know God, that religious system became obsolete. God stepped out of eternity to have a relationship with man. The God who entered into covenant with Abraham could not be bought. He could not be forced, manipulated, nor controlled. Abraham entered into a relationship based religion with the unseen God. The Bible calls that 'faith'. Faith responds within the framework of one's walk with God. Faith is our response to grace.
Abraham discovered faith wasn't about molding God into his image and what he wanted in life, it was about him being molded into God's image and what He wanted in life. Balancing grace and faith is next week, until then, blessings,
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